The role of literary intellectuals, especially better-known writers of fiction, drama, poetry, essays, and literary criticism, is extremely important in Chinese society. Although members of the literary elite are a very small fraction of those covered by the Chinese word for intellectuals—zhishifenzi, which includes scientists, engineers, teachers, librarians, journalists, (and, when used in its broadest sense, even all high-school graduates)—the literary elite is very influential. Major political and social debates in the People's Republic have been held in the literary sphere and sometimes have originated there. Moreover, contemporary fiction has a tremendous number of readers. Bestsellers are printed in the millions of copies, and surveys show that urban workers read contemporary fiction nearly as much as they watch television and movies. 1 Writers in China can become celebrities on the scale of film stars or professional athletes in the United States. This "star" phenomenon is new; basically, it is the result of greater printing capabilities and rising literacy rates in recent decades. It does not, however, fully reveal the conscious self-conception of writers. For that, one must look to Chinese tradition.